Category Archives: Archived

Grief is the Beast We Need

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.” ― Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. About the beings whom I have encountered or have touched me on my sojourn. And the many who have departed from my presence leaving an absence, an emptiness. I’ve lost several friends and family over the years, a few more recently. And one thing I have learned about grief, especially after having the enormous privilege of working with the terminally ill in hospice for many years, is that it is a beast we can never tame. We can only try to live with it, often uncomfortably, and respect its mercurial nature. And yet our grief is also meant to take us deeper. Deeper into the experience and mystery of love and life itself.

It has become all too common in western thought for people to shun the most fundamental of questions. This is often because to do so often means inviting ridicule. These pesky questions are considered a “waste of time” or a thing that toddlers, freshmen philosophy students and old sages do because they supposedly have “nothing better to do.” It is derided as “New Age” nonsense, ironically ignoring that these are the oldest of questions. They are left to the priests, and the clerics, and psychiatrists who too often chide us for thinking too much, for feeling to deeply, or for daring to touch the face of God without their assistance. And who often offer a prayer or a drug to numb that sense of awe we have a birthright to.

There is a verse in the Upanishads which reads: “The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not.” This understanding of the nature of our multiverse is nothing new. It can be found throughout history and spans spiritual and philosophical paths, from the Jewish and Christian mystics, to Islamic poets, to Buddhist pilgrims and Aboriginal seers who grappled with the dreaming world. And yet how many of us are merely pantomiming our way through this life? How many are participating in a kabuki presentation without searching the layers for meaning?

This is a sort of cultural conditioning and it serves a purpose. It reinforces conformity to a system, an ethos. And the less we question, the more our souls atrophy. After all, this is a system is designed to manufacture hungry ghosts. Empty shells with no capacity, no depth, forever roaming the deathscape of consumer capitalism with artificial and insatiable desires for meaningless things. Enslaved to numbered papers, pixelated screens and Gregorian clocks. If more people took time to ask these questions of themselves and of society perhaps things might be turned on their head. The supposed “order” of things, the accepted injustices, prejudices, endless wars, cruelties, ecocide, mindless consumption, inequities and banalities, might be questioned and perhaps even jettisoned.

Grief is the beast we need. It teaches us to cherish and to remember and to preserve. It shows us how to love and be loved and to find the courage to do both without hesitation. And it is a beast that demands our attention. When we deny its lamentation it comes to us by other means. Addictions, obsessions, nightmares, anxieties, depression, aggression, dis-ease. It inserts itself through the very fabric of our being and, if ignored, will devour our souls whole.

As the ice caps melt and plastic brims in our seas, as mad leaders jostle for a piece of the rotted capitalist cake, as more species fade into a distant memory and the Arctic burns, as the waters become fouled or dry up, as homeless shantytowns grow and nuclear arsenals burst, as jackbooted fascists suit up, corporations engorge themselves on misery, and authoritarian dictators join hands, our questions have taken on a new collective urgency. They signal our willingness, or not, to participate in the story of us. And it is an existential one.

So, before the movie ends, shouldn’t we ask the questions? Might that not be the greatest use of our time yet? There may not be any definitive answers. Perhaps only a silence. But getting an answer may not be what is important here at all. The questions are passages for greater understanding. They deepen us. And maybe that is why those with the most to lose don’t like them being asked in the first place.

Kenn Orphan   2019

*Title painting is one I did several years ago entitled “Just Before Dawn.”


Fires in Arctic Ice; Exposed on the Mountains of the Heart: “I would burn my right hand in a slow fire to change the future.”

It is my honour to present another collaborative dialogue with poet, lyricist and philosopher Phil Rockstroh.

PR: Recently, the temperature in Paris rose to 108.7 F (42.6 C) surpassing the previous record by 4 F (2.2 C) set on July 28, 1947 of 104.7 F (40.4 C).

Shortly thereafter, during an email exchange with an old friend, a prominent (if the term prominent can still be applied to the professionally marginalised and culturally obscure field of psychoanalysis) Jungian analyst, I addressed this question: Do you still insist my dread pertaining to atmospherically trapped, humankind-generated greenhouse gas emissions are a, veiled in metaphor, longing for human warmth — the stuff of consulting room pathos expressed, in Jungian patois, as Puer aeternus’ (in latin, eternal boy) displaced pothos? Or I was/am highly sensitive to the earth’s (a living entity’s) suffering and I was/am psychically streaming the lament of an aspect of the pantheistic mind of the godhead (i.e., archetypal reality)? Withal, Pan would be apt to rise in the form of panic. According to Greek myth, the gods of the Olympian pantheon are amused and humanity enlivened by Pan’s earthly musks and randy proclivities. But, in our atomised time, Arcana is transubstantiated into a pixel arcade of empty sensation. The breath of the living earth has been shunted from experience thus one hyperventilates…mortified by a subliminal apprehension of the dehumanising, abysmal nature of the medium.

When the weather conditions of the planet churn in humankind inflicted chaos, what is the concomitant effect on the psychical weather systems of individuals? What essences are dispatched from the Great Soul of the implicate order to artists? For example, the canvases of Bruegel the Elder, liming in the language of dreams, the clash of status quo Catholicism and the sectarian shit-storm evoked by the Protestant Reformation? Or Jung dropping to his knees and crawling, heaving with nausea, at his first glimpse of Cubism and his intuitive understanding of the psychological violence, intimated by the art movement, manifested under the soul-defying criteria of Machine Age modernity and mechanistic-based militarism?

The criteria of our wounding and wounded age should be operatic in scale; instead, we are bombarded with the petty minded prattle of mass and social media pikers.

KO: I was thinking about the fires in the Arctic a lot lately. Wildfires that are indeed wild, but have little to do with the natural cycles of this ancient orb. A human induced fever that has led to an all out inferno which erupts each summer with more intensity than the last. And I, too, was talking to an old friend, only she is a climate scientist. She lamented to me her feelings of despair, overwhelming at times. And then we see Paris and across Europe temperatures spiking into unbearable heights. And in the southern hemisphere floods are ravaging the poorest communities.

This is the environmental crisis we are hearing about continuously these days. And it is real and existential. Yet along with this crisis comes the crisis of capital, and the fear that the ruling class is feeling these days. Terror, actually. They understand this arrangement, all of it, is untenable for long term survival of the species (and countless other species as well) yet they are compelled to salvage the arrangement, not our existence. And this sort of madness infects our very psyche, because it is indicative of a kind of slavery. Slavery to a system that has doom and death woven into its fabric. And all the while the slavery is accompanied by emojis and memes. It is a slavery enforced by the ubiquitous screen, yet so few would recognize it as such. Guy Debord would have, but most would likely scoff at the very notion of it.

I know you have written a lot about dreams and so, in this age of existential angst, I’ve been thinking a lot about them too. In my insomnia wrought nights I have found myself longing for them, but when I sleep I am often haunted by their shadows and shades. The living world seeps into my consciousness and sullies it with the flotsam of unmet desires, frustrations and the disquiet of our collective predicament as a species. But then there are moments where a disconnect from the miasma of the conscious world occurs. I find myself in a sort of “dreamtime” as Australian Aboriginal peoples described so eloquently. A place where creation itself is the eternal moment. But everything has been colonized in our age, even dreams to some extent. That colonization is reflected in addictions and obsessions, and in the social maladies that haunt modern society. And it can be seen in the collective madness of ignoring the maelstrom on the horizon.

PR: The founder of the post-Jungian, Archetypal School of Psychology, James Hillman, provides insight on the situation:

“A crisis is very important, Freud and Jung both had creative breakdowns. I’m in favor of destruction, aggression, hating things. Not bearing things anymore. We think the breakdown comes because our life is in bad shape. But maybe the ideas cause the disorder. Something tries to break through and causes the disorder.”

Kenn, because you made reference to my writing involving dreams. In particular, my musing on the manner, within dreamscapes, the personal is often merged with the collective thus dreams are a viable and accessible realm wherein crises are dramatically limned in imagistic thus metaphoric form, I will elaborate on the subject by applying the poetic lexicon of dreams themselves:

In my dreams, the living and the dead, human and animal, mingle, even merge. A departed friend has transmogrified into a Jack Russell, endowed with the wings of a pelican. Another into an emerald and sapphire, non-venomous constrictor snake that coiled around my left arm transmitting throbbing energy throughout my body.

Other times, we engage in everyday discourse. One friend proffers this advice to me:

“Listen to music by artists archived within yours and my memory and has been neglected.”

Another seemed annoyed at being waylaid into my dream dominion, “I have a garden to cultivate,” he groused. “it is nothing like yours.”

In my dream cosmos, my father’s rage has not subsided. Our fights and our fragile, ad hoc alliances proceed as when he blazed in his orphan’s fury through the waking world. Seven years ago, in the late a.m. hours of late May night, he exhaled his last morphine-hobbled breath. Earlier in the day, his last words to me, as he gazed out the door that opened to a garden outside his hospice room, were “Ah. There is a zoo outside of here. Beautiful.”

Animated by the libation of animal spirits, my dead arrive and depart. Yet: The last Black Rhinoceros has been delivered into extinction. The oceans of the planet, womb of us all, are rapidly dying. Rainforests are burning to ash. Day and night, the predations of Auschwitz are inflicted within vast, industrial slaughter houses. Animal spirits rise within the soul-defying and defanged confines of late modernity as panic attacks and shooting sprees.

It seems as if the dead transmigrating my dreams arrive freighted with the knowledge of our collective folly. What is my place in the realm of parched earth and burning sky? Is lamentation all that remains as the last honest song of humankind?

“Exposed on the mountains of the heart. / See, how small there, see: the last hamlet of words, and higher, and still so small, a last homestead of feeling.” — Uncollected Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke

Song of ashes; building percussion of dry bones. Yet, in my dreams, the rain caresses the fecund earth and animal spirits seem undaunted by their dismal fate. My father’s unflagging animus causes me to awaken; my hands balled into fists. The tautly drawn skin over my knuckles reflects the sheen of mid-morning light.

Father, you have bequeath me with rage. Yet, as the moments after waking pass, the fury becomes a dissipating vapour in the vastness of the day.

In the poetic lexicon of it all: Both the awe-ful and awe-some collide. I navigate the numinous debris field of my life — a gliding mess of conflicted love for the world.

KO: In reading your words I could’t help but be reminded of the Bhagavad Gita and the verse:

“I am the beginning, middle, and end of creation. Among animals I am the lion; among birds, the eagle Garuda. I am Prahlada, born among the demons, and of all that measures, I am time. I am death, which overcomes all, and the source of all beings still to be born. Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being. Behold, Arjuna, a million divine forms, with an infinite variety of color and shape. Behold the gods of the natural world, and many more wonders never revealed before. Behold the entire cosmos turning within my body, and the other things you desire to see.

I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world.”

Carl Jung is said to written notes toward the end of his life about a “final catastrophe,” and I think of that more and more these days. Here, we stand at the precipice of catastrophe, the casting of our shadows, projected on to the world with such a carelessness.  And it connects to this desire for the end, a latent longing for destruction so that things can somehow be renewed, much like the mythology around end times eschatology. But it can be seen in environmental movements too. An acceptance of the end of the living biosphere with no grasp of its eons. No appreciation of its power. That we countenance such a thing is breathtaking. I commiserate with this on a deep level. It speaks to my angst, especially since I was raised in the tradition of Christian eschatology and in seeing what we are, in fact, doing to the web of life on which we rely and of which we are a part of.

I’ve thought a lot, too, about the paintings by Henry Fuseli. The Nightmare, and related paintings, done in the 18th century. And although there is a strong sexual component to them, I think there is more. It speaks to an angst about creation and destruction, and how in sleep we are vulnerable to it all. And in the Dreamtime, as they say, I find myself narrowly escaping catastrophe. Cityscapes are enfolded by the wilds. The wild lands are entwined with concrete structures. And all collide in some cataclysm. A sort of Big Bang or creation story that involves death and rebirth. And in my waking hours I have often pored over scientific papers concerning climate change, habitat loss, and species extinction. I see the destruction happening like a slow moving avalanche, swallowing up hectare after hectare. And oceans coastlines brimming with plastic. So it stands to reason why any of us would feel the impulse of letting go of it all. Of a chance, however remote or undeserved, of rebirth. But the terror of such a thing should stop us all in our tracks.

PR: A yearning exists to find comfort, difficult as it is, confronted by the largely anonymous societal arrangements of the age. Angst, as you noted, Kenn, pummels when one gazes at current vectors of our aeon of industrial/consumer capitalist modernity. Depression’s downward pull, impersonal as gravity, either renders one helpless with misery or dispatches one to ground level. The option of manic flights of distraction are no longer in the realm of the possible. A spirit of habitual evasion has met the embrace of the indomitable soul of the earth.

At this point in our atomised time, dialog is crucial. Not a superficial exchange of snarky memes, nor the soul-defying banality of emoticon generalisations, nor corporate era “self help,” “motivational” platitudes, nor the truncated prose and poetry-devoid and often testy “conversational style” of screen addicted (non)life. Discourses that manage to be, simultaneously, manic and inert.

“I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.” — Excerpted from Rearmament, Robinson Jeffers.

Our lives are diminished by the culture of exploitation. We feel tiny when we stand before the enormity of the monstrous system — but we are not small enough yet to envelop and tear the beast to shreds like coursing legions of army ants.

When considering the fate of the besieged earth, we feel immersed in an encompassing darkness — yet not deeply enough to make the dark our ally.

We are not gods nor angels; therefore, we cannot drown the enemies of life in a torrent of rage-borne tears. Yet we can drown our own complicity insofar as their odious doings.

I have been broken by the system. The hall of infinity mirrors of my mind has been shattered to shards….yet, through it all, now reflects numinous light. My verdant heart, once deracinated in sterile paradise, now opens, in my better moments, into the freedom of air.

I cannot bring a single soul with me there. Or can I?

If it is possible, if you have followed me here, know this: To destroy the earth, is to destroy one’s soul. We emerged from the ocean so that plankton can praise the fiery filaments and the cosmos can know its children thus realise itself.

We are no more alone than is the totality of the multiverse. Thus we need never be wanting for companionship.

Keep the conversation going.

“For look, the whole is infinitely newer
than a cable or a high apartment house.
The stars keep blazing with an ancient fire
and all the more recent fires will fade out.

Not even the largest, strongest of transmissions
can turn the wheels from what will be.
Across the moment, aeons speak with aeons.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus

– by Kenn Orphan and Phil Rockstroh, July  2019

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: and at FaceBook:

Title piece is “The Triumph of Death” (1562) by Pieter Bruegel.


On the Mockery of Elitists and Fools, a Musing

Recently, I had a “delightful” back and forth on social media with a “conservative gay activist” who happens to be a friend of a friend. Now, this designation might seem an oxymoron, but my guess is that it is some deeply confused, self-hating white guy lobbying passionately to force queer people like me back into the closet. But these “activists” apparently exist. It turned out, however that he is (or was) also the VP of the Log Cabin Republicans in a city I used to call home. Now, the Log Cabin organization should not be confused with any delightful memory of maple syrup and pancakes as the name might imply, think: cult for the deeply self-loathing LGBT person, yet irretrievably lost soul of white bestowed capitalist privilege.

It should go without saying that things didn’t go very well (who saw that coming?). And I admit that I wasn’t exactly “civil” myself. Although, in the Age of Trump civility isn’t really en vogue. Of course this can be traced back far before that orange-tinged dung beetle back-footed his gold plated turd ball on to the world stage, but he has certainly emboldened the trend in spades. And I must say that civility is overrated when it comes from a place of apologism or capitulation to barbarism.

I think he (the log cabin fellow) really took umbrage with me being thoroughly unimpressed with the self-professed fact that he has done interviews on Fox News and even CNN and MSNBC. He felt the need to insert these “credentials” after saying I wasn’t worth talking to because I didn’t know anything. Of course, these “interviews” are essentially on those shows that people in airports or auto shop waiting rooms are forced to watch when their mobile phones die. The scores of shows produced by American corporate media that trot out a seemingly endless parade of empty-headed vacuum sacks in suits in order to fill their copious screen space, in lieu of actually reporting the news or addressing the plight of human beings or the planet, or having any one on with a truly radical vision outside the status quo. And since his entire Facebook and Twitter feeds were festooned with racist imagery (showing Ilhan Omar as a snake, etc.) and other assorted memes of a similar nature, it really diminished any elitism he was trying to impart to me, a being of lower societal status.

After saying I wrote about the plight of indigenous peoples, against racism, and the struggle of all working people, and the planet, and against war, he understood that I was not the typical binary political foe he was used to. I am not a liberal or a Democrat. He then accused me of being (gasp) a communist! Of course I immediately thanked him, explained to him that I was actually more of an anarcho-socialist yet undefined, but that some of my best friends were, in fact, communists. As you can imagine, it all went downhill from there.

We didn’t have time to get into any of this between exchanging insults (of which I regret on my part), and things devolved into him posting inane memes akin to the “libtard” pejorative, but I’m certain he would have been equally horrified that I think ICE and the border patrol are today’s version of an American gestapo, or that the US military uses LGBT rights to whitewash war crimes, or that I support Palestinian rights, or that I not only believe in human caused climate change but that capitalism is the main driver, or that I think far right fascism is one of the greatest threats to humanity, and that it is rising around the world, and especially within the US and in his own beloved party.

It ended on a rather chilling note. He thanked me for revealing my political inclinations and said “we are going to win in 2020 and make our way permanent for all time.” Now, one can interpret that many ways, but in today’s climate it was quite clear. With rising fascism we can only hope that more people of conscience will call out what they see before their very eyes. After that he told me that he took a screen capture of our conversation and posted it on his wall so that his friends could have a good laugh at my idiocy. At that point I had no choice but to block him.

And that brings me to the point of this short and hopefully somewhat humorous musing. I may have not chosen my words wisely, but this is a time of rising barbarism, and it often comes with the veneer of “civility” or pretension. These privileged elitists often get spots on nightly news shows and other mediums. They attend well heeled fundraisers. And they have a measure of societal power and influence. So then with all this in mind, the mockery from such elitists, fools, fascists and other assorted brutes should be considered far more preferable to their admiration. In fact, mockery is a powerful and even moral tool, but only when it is used by the oppressed against oppressors. Anything else is merely the makings of a lynch mob.

Kenn Orphan   2019


Landscape of Anguish and Palliatives: Predation, Addiction and LOL Emoticons in the Age of Late Stage Capitalism

This is a collaborative dialogue with poet, lyricist and philosopher Phil Rockstroh.

Kenn, I’ve noticed in your pieces you explore the topic of the myriad and perpetual degradations that capitalism inflicts on the powerless. Thus given the unfolding of recent events e.g., the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, I’m curious as to your response to my (initial) take on the matter. Withal, the hyper-commodification of the bodies of young women is part and parcel of the economic dynamic of late stage capitalism whereby the earth is degraded to the point of global-wide ecocide and cities are rendered into vanilla cupcake zones of nada by hyper-gentrification.

To wit, Jeffrey Epstein is a predator and the same proclivities are evinced by his klavern of creepopathic friends e.g., Clinton, Trump, Dershowitz et. al.  Predation is the modus operandi of the ruling class. As noted, feelings of entitlement towards the bodies of young women — their beings reduced to objects of commodification — are part and parcel of a worldview which rationalises an entitlement to the (finite) resources of planet earth and the capital generated by the labor of lower economic orders. The domination-driven mindset of Jeffery Epstein was formed in and enabled by a elitist order that imprisons the economically powerless within the inescapable confines of late stage capitalism. In short, almost every human being in the world other than a (minuscule-in-number) minority of High End predators.

Why do we, the powerless, tolerate the abuse? Economic coercion. Display defiance towards the abuse and one risks being dispatched to the capitalist order’s gulag archipelago —  the capitalist version i.e., homelessness, into which precincts are cast those who cannot psychically abide, for various reasons, the predation inherent to the system. Also, the police serve as strong arm muscle for the ruling elite. The cops serve as a Praetorian guard of the predatory class.

Jeffrey Epstein’s modus operandi is emblematic of the system as a whole. The planet itself is perpetually violated and is suffering, in a manner most hideous, from the current arrangements of power. The arrest, conviction, and imprisoning of Epstein, and, if you allow me to indulge in a wish fulfilment jag of imaginative flight —  similar fates are foisted on Clinton, Trump, Dershowitz et. al., — would prove gratifying schadenfreude but unless the system that enables and greatly rewards Epstein’s predator breed is dismantled then merely one head of the hydra has been decapitated. The rapacious beast will live on until it is stabbed in its dark heart and its bones bleach in the sun of a new era.

KO: Epstein provides us a glimpse into the depravity of the ruling class, one which is obviously above the law even though he himself might now face some consequences. But the ruling class itself is full of Epstein models and prototypes. The sexual aspect of this whole thing cannot be understated either. America is a place of stark contradictions when it comes to sex and sexuality. On the one hand, there is the commodification of sex as you mention. It is everywhere. But on the other, a persistent strain of puritanism still shadows everything. And it is a place where even radical movements for human liberation are co-opted by bourgeois and reactionary institutions. Pride parades are an example of this. Along with banks and corporations, there are police contingents marching and USAF flyovers. The spirit of Stonewall be damned.

But I think the Epstein affair is emblematic of the death knell of late capitalism in many ways. Being a system designed wholly on the ruthless predation of the weak, vulnerable, or disadvantaged, capitalism cannot operate any other way. But its predation includes the living biosphere that we all depend on, so its fait accompli is written all over this as well. We can only hope that our species will not meet its end as a result. And with Trump’s unhinged saber rattling added, that hope quickly fades.

PR:  A great amount of news and pixel is expended on questions such as: Does Trump desire war or does Trump desire peace? Is Trump a racist or does he simply play one on TV with the agenda of agitating the limbic systems of his racist base? Is Trump a blithering imbecile, completely over his tangerine-tinged, combover-thatched head, or is he engaging in a cunning ploy intended to cause his opponents to underestimate him?

Fact is: Trump is about one thing and one thing only: His malignant ego being provided with perpetual narcissistic supply. Trump is a malignant narcissist, with psychopathic leanings e.g. his ungovernable impulse to grope (which he boasted about and was caught on audio tape) and his imprisoning children in concentration camps. His rival, in the last US presidential election cycle, HRC was also a narcissist with psychopathic proclivities but her persona is artic cold while Trump’s pulses with fuckwitted intemperance and cringe-inducing crassness. Hillary’s arctic aura causes people’s blood to run cold. But this is crucial: Both are human vessels that catalyse the Second Law Of Thermodynamics — a force of hypertrophy that arrives at the end of empires in the form of craven, clueless leaders.

As above, so below, in regard to the empire’s citizenry. Withal, a recent poll reveals the psychopathic tendencies of the general US public — to wit, more than a third of whom desire to have North Korea reduced to radioactive cinders by a nuclear weapons strike. (Do these vicious sub-cretins not realise such an attack would also decimate South Korea and nearby Japan and parts of China, and the radioactive emissions would travel across the planet, including reaching the US, by the conveyance of atmospheric currents?)

Flat out, creepy, huh…when, in public, a significant number of the people surrounding you, on a daily basis, are bughouse crazy. They possess the self-awareness of a bag of hair. Their regard for consequences, even catastrophic ones, is on par with that of a spree killer. These everyday psychopaths would kill millions with the casual intent of applying a LOL emoticon on social media. It causes my flesh to crawl to even write about it. Yet Beauty exists in the vastness and intricacies of creation. The dream-plangent human heart, a microcosm of the macrocosm, is redolent of both Loves fragrances and the sublimity of Horror. Poets term the phenomenon: a terrible beauty.

How does one trudge through the day and sink into restorative rest at night? There does not exist an answer on a provisional basis. Instead, become the question itself, Rainer Maria Rilke advised, and futurity will brood within you like a dreaming seed. The green fuse of the dream itself will crack open the kernel of your old understandings. Providentially, there was never an answer. The question itself only circumscribes the possibilities of life lived amid shifting, earthly criteria under a novelty-engendering sky.

KO: One thing you wrote really stands out in my mind as terrifyingly timely. “These everyday psychopaths would kill millions with the casual intent of applying a LOL emoticon on social media.” This is the landscape we are navigating these days. Where decisions that determine life and death are dominated by mercurial dopamine rewards offered by social media posts. It makes sense then that Trump, an addict if there ever was one, is so tethered to Twitter as a means of carrying out his daily duties. But the public and mass media are an equal part of this arrangement.

And so it leaves the rest of us to grapple with our existential moment. The angst and restlessness that accompanies the minutiae of our daily life and its transactions. How our dreams are interrupted by cannot be understated. It makes me think of other moments in history. Moments where the knowledge of atrocity or outright fascist brutality was widespread, but the sense of apathy or powerlessness was in equal measure.

Climate change, a biosphere in peril and under constant assault, militarism, rising fascism, and, as you make clear, the specter of nuclear annihilation. All of this convergence of very bad and very final things comes at a time when so many in the West are perpetually trapped within a prism of binary thinking. Trump is so emblematic of ‘in your face’ sadism that so many forget the cold banality of Clinton and the rest of that elite coterie of cruelty.

And yet here we are, with the newest brand of Democratic Party corporate, war-lusting clones trotted out on stage as if they were a viable alternative to the walking dumpster fire that is Trump. And that there few mass movements against the overarching system is important to note. There is only atomized outraged instead of a groundswell of rage against the entire monstrosity that is the American Empire.

PR: Late capitalists are dopamine merchants. Whether the addictive criteria involves consumerism and its even more meretricious scion, social media, the reward systems are hijacked. The dopehouse lie of the mind prevails: “Just one more hit and I’m out of here. I have this under control”…yet dawn arrives…then morning yields to afternoon…

The economic elite possess a classic form of the affliction, albeit in the cosmology of the capitalist epoch, their cupidity and avarice are deemed not only virtues but the best and only possible monads to create social constructs and to seed culture. In regard to addiction, I prefer the term from depth psychology “Complex” as opposed to “Disease.” With this caveat: Unless the latter term is appropriated, for example, in the Jungian sense i.e., the gods [i.e., higher (and lower) psychical powers] have become diseases. Among the distortions of the mind concomitant to addiction: an addict mistakes the Complex — a response that was once helpful in bestowing feelings of “ease and comfort” thereby mitigating feelings of trauma and attendant angst and despair, but has grown into a dynamic of destruction.

As the self-justifying illusions that enable the Complex intensify, the tangible world — of sensation and consequence — seem as veritable as vapour. As a rule, addiction is an attempt to apply palliative measures to psychical based wounds. Thus if day to day experiences of late capitalist modernity unfold as a landscape of angst and despair borne of the humiliations inherent to being viewed as a soulless, anonymous flesh machine who has been relegated to existing as merely an economic entity, an atomised being…alone, powerless, devoid of voice…therefore, even a contemporary, “normal,” seemingly adjusted social media habituate becomes, as is the case with all addicts, lost in a wilderness of inhuman, archetypical impulses…that possess a single-minded objective: escape overwhelming feelings of anxiety and despair by getting high, even it the sky must burn, the oceans roil with methane gases, and the biodiversity of the earth suffers the fate of a drunk’s liver and brain cells. Withal, we, in our sober moments, stand mortified as the same process is destroying the ability of the planet to sustain human life by means of capitalism inflicted, worldwide ecocide.

KO:  It’s true, there is an addiction to the screen in this age. The absence of it produces a sort of anxiety akin to withdrawal. It is of no wonder really that the orange buffoon in the Oval Office is addicted to Twitter (and most likely Aderall). But it goes to all levels. War is conducted by the Empire mostly via screens. People and entire villages are reduced to ash from the click of some armchair warrior miles away. But capitalism is essentially slavery. And it coerces its slaves with violence, fear and addiction. The portable screen is the newest manifestation of this kind of psychic tyranny.

What I’ve found fascinating is that I’ve read a few articles on how the uber wealthy are now shunning their screens. It is considered lowbrow. Elite schools are jettisoning laptops for face to face encounters. Even executives brag of how they are “inaccessible” via email or texting for much of their day. But they can afford to do this, of course. It is the working class and, to a large extent, bourgeoisie who are tethered to their screens. And I cannot help but wonder how this all plays into conformity, constant fear and the surveillance state. In one sense, we are kept up to date on our dire state, but in another we are driven to a state of constant fear by the enormity of it all and how supposedly powerless we are to fight back.

PR:  We are drawn to screen life — or a facsimile of life offered thereof — because social media evokes a simulacrum of participation mystique. We long for the musk and fury of worldly engagement — i.e., eros — with life itself. But in this atomised epoch — an existence devoid of the public square and ridden with angst involving face to face encounters (created simply by a lack of practice) — the socially isolated citizenry of the late capitalist epoch are suffering from, on both a personal and collective basis, acute eros-deficiency.  “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”  Eric Hoffer’s insight reveals why screen (faux) life is addictive. One feels as if human-to-human communion — a connection with the everyday sublime is imminent but the connection never arrives…yet one is compelled to double down.

Thus we have careened into a dangerous psychical terrain: the means capitalist modernity gives rise to a fascist proclivity for mind-usurping, sensation-base spectacle and concomitant immersion in the eros (including the blood-lust variety) of the mob (a palliative for the citizenry’s collective, acute eros-deficiency). Withal, the phenomenon in play at Trump rallies that are teeming with Brownshirt prototypes in crocs. This threat, seethed by Trump, is axiomatic of the form:

“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad…” Among the manifestations of fascist signifying and modus operandi: 1) Use of police/military power to intimidate and if need be to crush opposition (as Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with local police departments, inflicted on the Occupy Wall Street movement — to wit, US fascism is not restricted to Trump). 2) “Bikers for Trump”: Deployment of violent Brownshirt-type thuggery. 3) Worship of strength and a revulsion to perceived weakness (Trump’s display of military hardware on the Forth Of July and his time-warping, jingoist farrago of a speech. 4) Beliefs of victimisation at the hands of internal groups and violent and/or contagion-bearing outsider mandating a need for a cordon sanitaire to protect the homeland, even to the point of justifying calls and acts of violence and the existence of containment facilities caging foreign interlopers.

Fascist citadels of the mind serve as protection against internalised shame and fears of vulnerability. Fascism, always, lies coiled beneath the surface of capitalist modernity and its sham democracies. Trump is an accelerant of fascism; he is not the cause. Trump may have been born rich but he knows, deep down, the illusion of success and confidence he displays is a hollow gambit deployed to protect himself from the truth that without his father’s wealth Trump, in the best case scenario, would have risen to the level of assistant manager of an exurb Applebees, and been fired for acts of sexual harassment.

The Tangerine-tinged Tub Of Toxic Goo’s fascist tendencies are a compensation for internalised shame borne of a sense of inadequacy…that threaten to overwhelm his fragile ego structure.  In short, he is the man of the capitalist zeitgeist.

KO:  Yes, on the psychical level we all long for that connection. For participation in the theater of life. And so then Trump fits perfectly into this milieu. He is emblematic of the spectacle, albeit in a dull and brutish way. But the Trump phenomenon represents where capitalism inevitably ends up. Wealth doesn’t beget grace, or wit, or intelligence, or compassion. And we have seen similar scenarios play out over the 20th century around the world in different societies.

Capitalism’s deal with the bourgeoisie leads inevitably to some kind of fascist authoritarianism in a bid to maintain a privilege that was never fair or sustainable to begin with. It’s a sort of Faustian bargain, although in this case it is not for some increase in knowledge or even power necessarily, but for maintaining ones class status despite the inequities or outright barbarity that arrangement engenders for countless other people or for the living planet itself. And the faux opposition always serves to act as a bulwark against any meaningful political agency. It maintains the sham.

But now we are in a rather unique circumstance, and increasingly so. The planet’s systems are being rapidly degraded by the forces of capital and their military powers. And there is always the threat of nuclear annihilation via mishap or even tweet. So this is an existential moment, so to speak. And I’m not even sure how Marx or Engels would grapple with where we are at today.

PR:  Marx and Engels insight involved Industrial Age capitalism but what insights would the Marxist philosophers have posited in regard to the endless, social media-borne piffle mongering and the Medium’s panopticon-level corporate surveillance — and the attendant shallowness and fragility of the infrastructure of neoliberalism’s constructed-of eggshells economic/cultural/societal architecture? The phenomenon is mirrored in the psychical architecture of the epoxied-to-screens citizenry and their concomitant attention spans that are as tenuous as the power grid and food supply infrastructure of late capitalist modernity.

All too many have fallen prey to a con artists’ scam — a cultural lie of the mind — as durable as gossamer, as sincere as the promises of a pimp, as reliable as a blackmarket timepiece. The ground is not solid; the foundation of the system is ridden with rot; the greenhouse gas inundated waters of the earth’s oceans and seas are rising; the political class are grotesques resembling the visions — not as limned by Marx or Engels — but of Jonathan Swift, Gogol, and Otto Dix.

The question is…not how long can this go on…but how have we allowed it to go on as long as we have?

~ Kenn Orphan and Phil Rockstroh   July, 2019

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: and at FaceBook:

Stranger Things, Stranger Times

To say we live in extraordinarily strange times is perhaps the ultimate understatement. Strange times indeed, and terrifying as well. Rising global fascism, the continued threat of nuclear war, an imperiled biosphere and a climate that is rapidly heating up. In the US it is even more apparent. There are concentration camps on the southern US border where children are being separated from their parents. Children are being forced to share lice combs and told to drink toilet water. Several have died. People arrested for leaving out water for dehydrated immigrants in the desert. Jackbooted raids are being threatened against undocumented people by President Trump as institutions like ICE reveal a staggering level of racism and blatant fascism. The orange hued megalomaniac in the Oval Office routinely tweets racist screeds or threatens the annihilation of millions of people, from Iran to North Korea. The US military is engaged in several wars of imperialism abroad. And homeless encampments in and around US cities are exploding.

But to watch American mass media one might feel they are in a parallel universe. Case in point, the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I will confess that I do enjoy watching many series on Netflix, including this particular one, mostly for their entertainment value. And I have a bit of an addiction to pop culture. But when I watched the recent third season I was astonished by the level of blatant American propaganda on display, without even a morsel of ambiguity.

If you haven’t watched the previous seasons or this one, don’t worry. I won’t spoil the ending. But the series generally revolves around a group of kids in suburban middle America in the 1980s. They become swept up in a whirlwind of events involving the US Department of Energy, secret government experiments and a dark power that threatens to destroy everything in the world we know. The entire set and character development is steeped in 80’s kitsch, but it deserves credit for its fast pace, special effects and endearing characters; and there have been some truly remarkable moments of humanity in relation to the struggles of a young and psychokinetically talented girl named Eleven, “El” for short, in earlier seasons.

But in this last season the nefarious machinations of Department of Energy and other US agencies have been jettisoned to focus on the “evil Russians.” No, really. They actually use the term “evil Russians” several times throughout the show. That, along with “Soviet scum.” Now, anyone who has studied American mass media understands how Hollywood has long parroted the talking points of the US ruling establishment and the Pentagon. Russophobia has always been a common plotline. But this is a time where #Russiagate has flooded the consciousness of the American liberal bourgeoisie. Anyone who expresses doubts about the extent of Russian meddling in US electoral politics, even if they are staunchly opposed to the fascism of Donald Trump as I am, are often branded as “Russian bots” or on the Kremlin’s payroll. Pundits like Rachel Maddow and many in the Democratic Party establishment have devoted themselves to the #Russiagate narrative 24/7. So this is not merely done in a vacuum. It plays neatly into American reactionary politics.

In fact, many productions to this day have active CIA, DHS and DoD agents sitting on their sets in advisory roles, and US military hardware has been made readily available for those studios and productions who follow the script, so to speak. So the dialogue of Stranger Things should not come as a surprise. But there are other examples. One scientist, Alexei, expresses a desire to become an American scientist after seeing the “evil” of his government. And an enormous Soviet base, for instance, built deep in the bedrock beneath a shopping mall in the small Indiana town of Hawkins. The silliness of this aside, the fact that the USSR was at the beginning of an economic death spiral at the time is one issue, but the Soviet operatives here are given an almost supernatural physical strength in most cases.

Now of course none of this is to defend the anti-democratic leanings, human rights violations, attacks on journalists, political opponents or LGBTQ people, atrocities, militarism or war crimes of the former USSR or of the current Russian Federation under Putin; but it is to say that US propaganda is alive and well in mass media. And there is a nationalistic impulse for collective amnesia when it comes to the US role in toppling democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran, Honduras, etc), gross anti-democratic and authoritarian atrocities (the internment of Japanese Americans, Red Scare and Jim Crow for three glaring 20th century examples), or enormous war crimes (the nuking of civilians in Japan, carpet bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Libya, etc.), or crimes against humanity (see Marshall Islands nuke testing, Tuskegee experiments, COINTELPRO, etc.) committed by the American government and military. This rebranded propaganda appears to have resurfaced for a new generation.

In addition to the obvious Russophobia there is another component of the plot in Stranger Things that is striking for the current age. An evil “Mind Flayer” from the dark world of the “Upside Down” takes over the minds and wills of various townspeople. With the backdrop of a “communist menace” various conclusions can be drawn about American Red Scare and its fearmongering about collectivism.  Think: Invasion of the Body Snatchers redux. But one character, a little precocious black girl named Erica Sinclair, makes several pronouncements on the virtues of capitalism. She proclaims at one point: “know what I love more about this country? Capitalism. Do you know what capitalism means? It means this is free market system. which means people get paid for their services, depending on how valuable their contributions are.”

Now little Erica can be forgiven for her ignorance, but the reality for millions of other black kids in 1980s America (or before and since for that matter) was far less forgiving. This was an era marked by Reagan’s ruthless neoliberal order, a “trickle-down” economy that never managed to trickle any material benefits to working class black and brown people, let alone working class whites. And the show never touches on any of the rampant racism at play in the 1980s either; although it includes a palpable identity politics drenched, au courant, bourgeois-based, sexist conscious component of the #MeToo variety.

But the producers of Stranger Things, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, are the real culprits here. Their net worth is reported to be around $12 million each, so they have certainly benefited from that “free market” capitalism Erica boasts about. One wonders if they notice the mega shantytowns on their way to the studio each day. The ones that are burgeoning throughout California and around the country. I doubt many of them would share Erica’s enthusiasm for the current economic order.

The third season of Stranger Things encapsulates the angst of the American bourgeoisie today. Its appeal to a nostalgia is seen in the excess emphasis on sentimentality and kitsch; and there is a nod of acceptance of authoritarianism in the liberties taken by police chief Jim Hopper, or “Hop,” where his abuses are portrayed humorously. And this at a time where police brutality is off the charts. Its conformity is evident in the constant promotion of corporate products, consumerism and the dominant shopping mall milieu. Nationalism and jingoism are predominant with the US military and 4th of July symbolism playing a key role in the defeat of evil. And there is an ever present fear of an “other” who threatens everything America supposedly stands for: individualism, liberty and shopping, of course.

The American bourgeoisie is in an existential crisis. It is overworked, in perpetual fear of debt or bankruptcy due to healthcare costs, mortgage and rent, education and the costs of daily living. Its privileged status stands threatened by the natural trajectory of capitalism toward gross economic inequity, avarice fueled corruption, the capriciousness of a sadistic “free market,” rising fascism, militarism and an imperiled biosphere that stands to topple the entire house of cards. The so-called “opposition” to the tyrant in the White House has been playing a game of appeasement and focusing on outside “threats” like Russia, instead of tackling the real enemy: the American ruling class establishment. But mass media is incapable of reflecting this reality. To do so, it would need to examine American history accurately, honestly, and with humility, and face the truth about the past and the current untenable arrangement. And that would undoubtedly be the strangest thing of all.


Kenn Orphan   2019

We Know

Perhaps you can commiserate. For the past few weeks I’ve felt an aching in my chest; an angst I cannot escape. The darkening skies of an ever besieged biosphere aside, the specter of rising fascism undoubtedly looms large now, and war, a global war, now seems inevitable. It’s true that the saber rattling has been going on for some time. And the bombs have never really stopped falling. The last leader of the American Empire dropped over 26,000 of them in his last year alone.

But then, last week, the current bloated tweeting emperor called forth his bombers into the sky and, at a moment’s notice, called them back. A war that would ignite a region already smoldering from decades of imperial assaults was halted in midair. But the effect of terror had been accomplished. Billions of people now hold their breath as he casually promises to obliterate millions of people if “anything” American is harmed. Is an unmanned drone worth millions of human lives? We may find out if the Empire thinks so.

And then there are the camps. Those camps on the southern border of the Empire. It is unfathomable for any person of conscience to ignore the horror unfolding there. It requires a forfeiture of one’s soul. Children screaming for their mothers, the mothers whose arms they were ruthlessly torn from. Clothing caked with mucus. Lying on cold, concrete floors, with foil sheets as blankets. Abandoned children mothering other abandoned children. Caged. Alone. Terrified. And the guards screaming at the children who didn’t follow their instructions. Who didn’t share the lice combs they were told to share. And the children who have been adopted out to other families, or who died of exposure and preventable diseases.  Succumbing to dehydration in a harsh desert because people have been imprisoned by the Empire for leaving out water.

Queer people locked in solitary confinement, for being queer. Pregnant women shackled to beds as they give birth. And yet some liberals balk at the use of the words “concentration camps” for being too strong. History has words that describe those liberals too, and they aren’t flattering.

Far from homes ravaged by violence, these human beings seek refuge. Escaping a violence visited upon them from the same empire they now seek refuge within. And when they arrive, they are met with another kind of violence. A dehumanizing, organized terror. One which begins with being called animals, or rapists, or criminals. An infestation. Sound familiar? Chilling? It should be.

And yet many of us are still chided by conservatives and liberals alike for daring to bring up atrocities of the past. We dare not violate Godwin’s Law. That no go zone in internet chat rooms and social media sites that eschews comparisons of today’s crimes to that of Nazi Germany. But now even Godwin, the author of that meme, is having second thoughts. So with that rebuke jettisoned, my mind goes back to reading about respectable German families having picnics outside concentration camps in the 1930s. The slow churn of trains full of human cargo, stained by blood, vomit and fear, rumbling by them on fields of grass. The smoke of burning flesh punctuating the summer sky. And how those families knew. They knew. And yet they ate, and drank cold riesling, and sang familiar songs, as the fumes of death drifted by.

I often wonder what it took to develop that kind of callousness. I am wondering less and less these days. After all, these places didn’t start as death camps. “Arbeit macht frei.” Liberation was always promised. It was just not the kind anyone wanted. And steadily, with careful planning, an ideology of hate became a bureaucracy of death. The machinery of extermination that started with entire groups of people being labeled as “vermin.” A cancer. An infestation. Alien to those who supposedly belonged. And dehumanization led to mass deportation, which led to internment. And internment led to atrocity.

Atrocity is the product of apathy. The bastard child of a complacent public. It is a wickedness that builds within a society so insidiously that it becomes embedded in its daily transactions and the language itself. And it often induces a kind of paralysis. A normalcy bias. So I have also been thinking a lot about a woman I met years ago when I worked in hospice. She survived the Holocaust, but she was haunted every single day by the memory of watching her father being thrown into an open fire in front of her. He was trying to protect his young daughter from the groping hands of the SS. But her role was to be that of a “comfort woman.” And for that they ripped her up inside with a broken bottle. “You’ll never have children now,” the SS guard laughed. And he was correct.

She wasn’t Jewish. She wasn’t political. She was a child. In fact, she was German, through and through. A devout Catholic. But she and her family weren’t spared. She saw her neighbors demonized, persecuted and dragged away one by one, family by family. Frozen as the tide of terror arose around them. Jews, Roma, homosexuals, communists. But then they came for her family.

Decades have passed since that time and yet more camps have come and gone around the world. More open air prisons. More mass round ups and deportations. More death squads. More killing fields. Indonesia, Chile, Congo, Guatemala, Gaza, Syria, Yemen. And in each case well meaning, respectable people have watched the horror unfold. Watched their neighbors be bombed. Watched the death squads terrorize. Some have applauded it, some have even participated in it or brought picnics to the carnage like those German families decades ago.

To be sure, there are too many killing fields to count. Too many rotting corpses. But they must be counted. Each of them. Because each one of them count. And because again, fascism rises. Out of the ashes of mountains of bodies. It rises. And the camps are back too. And so are the attack dogs. And the barbed wire. And the guards. And they are all within the empire itself.

There is a signal we are given from the blood soaked pages of history. A Cassandra ignored now as in days past. The soft, warm loam of the earth eventually gives up her dead, and they speak to us. The most powerful empire the world has ever known is now global in scale. Its belligerent and suffocating tendrils reach everywhere. And it has become the most powerful menace to all who call this planet home. It courts our extinction via the wanton destruction of the biosphere and nuclear annihilation; and its sadistic disregard for today’s immigrant children on its home soil is the same it holds for the children in Iran, or North Korea, or for all children of the future for that matter. After all, it doesn’t think of any of them as its children to begin with, and it knows no other course to take. But you and I have no excuse. Now we know.

We know.

Kenn Orphan    2019

Normalizing Atrocity

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” 
― Voltaire

This week President Trump vowed mass arrests and the removal of “millions of illegal aliens” by early next week. These proclamations have become increasingly normalized in an age where his absurdities are spouted daily, but this is the kind of rhetoric which often precedes atrocity. “Mass arrests” of millions of people is the kind of language that communicates the naked aggression of the state against the “other.” It permits a sweeping dehumanization of entire groups. That they are non-violent or paying taxes is of no consequence. They are “aliens” who must be “removed,” extracted from the so-called “legal” population by any means. In the last 20 years this has generally meant people of color, especially those with non-Anglo surnames. Yet, in response to this latest threat I saw a comment from one American liberal which read “meh, the logistics of doing something like this are enormous.” In other words, “it can’t happen here.” History begs to differ.

Thousands of socialists and leftists were marched into stadiums in Chile in the 1970s and gunned down, tortured, or disappeared in a country with a much smaller military than the US. Between 1965 and 1966, at least a million communists, or those believed to be communists, were hunted down and brutally murdered in Indonesia by rightwing death squads and the police. And millions of Jews, Roma, communists, homosexuals and the disabled were persecuted, rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the 1930s and 40s in Germany and Nazi occupied countries, where most perished at a time when many ordinary people thought “the logistics” of doing something like that were too “enormous” to be fathomed, much less carried out. And each atrocity was preceded by the rise of a pernicious fascism and the language of dehumanization by leaders.

The notion that atrocity “can’t happen here” is soundly refuted by the fact that it has happened here. And countless times. The US, a nation founded upon organized ethnic cleansing and genocide of the native population, and the brutal enslavement of millions of Africans, has also been home to more recent mass atrocities. Thousands of black and brown men and some women were lynched over the early part of the 20th century. Events organized and sanctioned by authorities, police and politicians, where popcorn, postcards and body parts were sold as souvenirs to the ghoulish onlookers. Thousands of Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in internment camps in the desert during WW2 for the sake of “national security.”

Indeed, over the 20th century the US military, energy, and intelligence agencies have been at the forefront of atrocity, conducting medical, chemical and radiation experiments on millions of unsuspecting people. Whether it was feeding radioactive food to mentally disabled children and conscientious objectors, or irradiating pregnant women, infants or prisoners, or releasing radioactive chemicals over US and Canadian cities, the US establishment has demonstrated it is quite at home in administering atrocity and then burying it all until years later.

And this is not counting the non-Americans in the Marshall Islands where the US tested its nuclear bombs. Or in Guatemala where scores were deliberately infected with syphilis as in Tuskegee, where American black men were the victims. Or the millions of deaths caused by American imperialistic wars which carpet bombed cities and villages, used napalm and Agent Orange or, more recently, the use of burning white phosphorous and cancer causing depleted uranium.  Entire regions have been devastated, scores slaughtered from American forays. But one thing has been consistent, the vast majority of the victims of American atrocities have been women, the poor, and people of color.

So to some, alarm at Trump’s threat may seem hyperbolic. Indeed, there may not be any nascent mass atrocity unfolding here at this time. Others might say he is merely removing people who are in the US illegally, or that it could simply be more distraction, a nod to his xenophobic base. And the mass deportation of immigrants is indeed nothing new with any prior administration either. Obama, the notorious drone bombing president, whistleblower attacking, “deporter in chief,” while not issuing sweeping proclamations about his intended pogroms, certainly paved the way for everything we see now.

But the language Trump uses is not insignificant. Not at all. He is signaling his willingness for carrying out massive actions and purges in society. He uses fear effectively against the most vulnerable and powerless. And even a short historical account of the American ruling establishment and its institutions reveals that it has the capacity to participate and administer the most heinous crimes against humanity that have ever been conceived. ICE is more than happy to follow his dictates, and establishment Democrats, the so-called “resistance,” have indicated time and time again that they will unite with Republicans in defending the most odious of American policies.

One thing history has proven is that mass atrocity can be committed with few people, with great efficiency at a moment’s notice, little technology, and with shocking approval or the complacence of the majority of ordinary people. But it must first be normalized. To be sure, if a people can tolerate dehumanizing language of entire groups by its leader, and the utterly sadistic policy of ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in cages, or pregnant women being shackled to beds, or the torture of non-violent LGBTQ and mentally ill migrants via solitary confinement for days, or militias working in tandem with government agencies to round up unarmed migrants, or a government prosecuting those who provide water and shelter to other human beings in desperate need, it is certainly capable of tolerating, or even applauding, even worse monstrous depravity. And without a doubt, we are only one absurd tweet away from that potential nightmare.

Kenn Orphan   2019

Madness and Angst at the End of Empire

“Recent Research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations.” – Jem Bendell, professor of sustainability leadership, University of Cumbria, UK

“Perseverance porn goes hand in hand with the rise of a GoFundMe economy that relies on personal narrative over collective policy, emotional appeals over baseline human rights. $930 million out of the $2 billion raised on GoFundMe since its inception in 2010 was for healthcare expenses, while an estimated 45,000 people a year die a year due to a lack of medical treatment. Meanwhile, anchors across cable news insist that single-payer healthcare is “unaffordable,” browbeating guests who support it, while populating their broadcasts with these one-off tales of people heroically scraping by.” – Adam Johnson, Media’s Grim Addiction to Perseverance Porn, (FAIR)

“The liberal class thus divides into two breakaway clans, those who limit themselves to lip-service monologues with which they publicize their sense of injustice over comfortable meals, wine glasses brandished as weapons to punctuate their outrage. Then there are the true thespians, who take to the streets, wielding placards filled with exclamations and chanting songs of resistance as their throngs progress clumsily down the avenue, thoughtfully cleared of traffic in advance by local authorities. On the one hand, gestural politics; on the other, theater.” – Jason Hirthler, The Curious Malaise of the Middle Class, (Dissident Voice)

“This present momentism appears, at least on the surface, as a therapeutic solvent for all our problems, making our present situation more bearable. But this bearability of the status quo amounts to a permanent retreat to the psychic bomb shelter of now, a kind of bury-your-head in the sand mindfulness which acts as a sanitized palliative for neoliberal subjects who have lost hope for alternatives to capitalism.” – Ronald Purser, The Faux Revolution of Mindfulness, Open Democracy, author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality

“Empires are death cults, and death cults, on a subliminal basis, long for their own demise. Paradoxically, the collective mindset of imperium, even as it thrusts across the expanse of the world, renders itself insular, cut off from culturally enhancing novelty, as all the while, the homeland descends into a psychical swamp of churning madness.” – Phil Rochstroh, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Capitalism, Counterpunch


In the waning days of the American Empire a sort of collective madness has seemed to take hold of its ruling class. It is perhaps most clear in the unhinged and incessant decrees of the bloated emperor via tweet. But it is also in the idiotic ramblings of his minions redefining fossil fuels as “freedom gas” or rapidly melting Arctic seas as an economic “opportunity.”  It can also be seen in the reactionary and warmongering responses of the so-called resistance in the corrupt Democratic Party establishment and corporate media regarding Russiagate. Or Bolton and Pompeo inventing evidence to justify more imperial wars just years after the disastrous assault on Iraq and during the longest ongoing US war in Afghanistan. It extends to the incredulous claims of Michele Bachmann that Trump is “godly and biblical” and televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who described his aversion to flying commercial airlines as getting in “a long tube with demons,” calling for a national day of prayer for the orange-tinted tyrant. It is truly staggering to behold.

Amidst all this madness, crimes and atrocities are being committed in broad daylight by that same ruling class both domestically and abroad. In the Middle-East the ruling class, via their corporations General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is aiding and benefiting from outright genocide in Yemen by the most brutal and criminal of America’s colonies: Saudi Arabia. Similar profits are garnished from backing the apartheid regime in Israel and the military junta in Egypt. In Brazil the ruling class has only just begun to see the dollars roll in from Bolsonaro’s further opening up of the Amazon, the planet’s proverbial lungs. In Modi’s India, they are salivating at the chance to despoil more of the sub-continents riches. And around the world corporations and the fossil fuel industry continue their mad and blind dash toward species extinction.

Back in the US police violence against people of color remains steady and the prison industry is still booming. Along the southern border, migrants from Central America are seeking legal asylum, scores of them young children. Their only “crime” is fleeing their homelands which have been ruthlessly torn up by US foreign policy for at least a century.  But they are being rounded up by militias and sent to concentration camps. LGBT and mentally ill migrants are being tortured in solitary confinement. Families are being separated, children caged, violated, dying from preventable diseases.

In the era of social media all of this information is readily available for those interested. Even those uninterested are exposed to what is happening via the ubiquitous social media newsfeed. Indeed, a subdued disquiet among the bourgeoisie has become undeniable. But endless imperialistic wars, rampant corruption, human rights abuses, waning economic advancement, and mass species extinction hasn’t yet prodded most of them from their homes to shut down the machinery of this cult of death, even though it threatens the very futures of their own children. When the bourgeoisie in the US do get out to protest the events are generally scripted, scheduled, sanctioned and televised by the establishment itself. The appropriate permits are obtained. No traffic is stopped. No building is occupied. The status quo remains intact and the necessary steam of middle-class angst is let off until the next event. In the meantime, the war, prison and surveillance industry expand, police militarization continues apace, the environment continues to be raped and pillaged, and fundamental freedoms like speech and reproductive rights are systematically dismantled. By comparison, any actual dissent is met with swift authoritarian violence by the corporate state; Standing Rock Sioux and BLM as stark examples.

Perpetually harried and fearful of losing the tenuous privilege afforded to them by the ruling class, the white middle class in the US has little time to focus on anything outside their prescribed bubble of experience. They inhabit a world constructed by the capricious and cynical designers of the free market. A place devoid of the words “ruling class,” where the mantra of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” reigns supreme in an era of neoliberal barbarism. Where even if one is working fulltime they may still not have access to basic healthcare coverage. Where they are saddled with enormous debt that can never really be paid off in anyone’s lifetime. Peering at the world through the lens of glowing, hand sized screens, connecting algorithmically to the pulse of a commercially constructed world, most essentially exist in a pixelated prison of suspended and unconnected moments, reinforced by procedural programs which have been meticulously written in the posh and sterile board rooms of Madison Avenue and in the Silicon Valley. History is extinguished here, as are agency and imagination. It is a consumerist world that conforms to the dictatorship of money.

Americans have been socially conditioned for decades to accept these contradictions of their economic, social and political arrangement. Meanwhile suicide is rampant, punctuated by mass shootings. Opioid abuse is taking many more lives. Indeed, the pharmaceutical industry has thrived off this angst, convincing millions that their psychic and social maladies are all due to a personal or chemical defect, not the system itself. That working people barely stave off homelessness and middle class families are increasingly separated from their loved ones and communities by having to travel long hours to a job (or jobs) which hardly covers daily expenses, is a struggle not considered telegenic enough, unless it is cast in the heroic light of “personal responsibility.”

Indeed, Hollywood and corporate media reinforce the mythology of American greatness while its populace becomes ever more weighted down by the late stage capitalist nightmare. Whether it be CNN or MSNBC, distraction from issues related to class or economic disenfranchisement rule the day. Russiagate, the “scary” (and non-existent) migrant caravan, or Trump’s latest outlandish or absurd tweet dominate the news cycles. Catastrophic climate change, the staggering loss of biodiversity, burgeoning suicides among youth, the elderly or veterans, the never-ending and expanding war machine of the Pentagon, growing police violence and a bursting prison industrial complex, corporate and banking corruption, increased economic disparity and hardship? Not so much.

Movies and programs about dystopia have been ubiquitous for many years now, but the factors that contribute to these apocalyptic futures have nothing to do with the actual existential threats we are now facing. Zombies and terrorists dominate the themes presented, and this reflects back on the enormous influence of the Pentagon, Department of Defense, CIA, et al. on mass media. Even video games mirror the warped and expansionist aspirations of the American establishment and its bellicose foreign policy. For decades, these agencies have sought to steer the narrative of American angst toward conformity with the capitalist status quo. And they have been largely successful thanks to many attributes of American life itself. Suburbia and automobile culture after WW 2 erased the commons to create a sort of facsimile of community, often devoid of central spaces, character or originality, and connected by ribbons of featureless highway. Vast dead spaces that are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

But even relatively innocuous programs and movies are divorced from lived reality. I was watching one recently at a friend’s house about a group of friends taking a trip to the wine country. With some mild and typically safe humor to garnish a few chuckles, it was rife with convention and contrivance. The most glaring thing of all, though, was the lack of any class reflected in the character’s diverse lives. All were of the American middle-class in one form or another. Some single mothers, others working highly paid jobs. But none of them facing what the majority of Americans actually face. None of them living pay check to pay check, lacking basic healthcare coverage, paying exorbitant rents or mortgages, or saddled with perpetual debt. But as long as their character’s clothing and surroundings were furnished by Zara, Williams-Sonoma and Pier One, the circumstances of reality were easily eclipsed. Forgotten.

Indeed, the Age of Trump, which is the product of decades of capitalist rot, has demonstrated that the American bourgeoisie have been largely inured to their continually degraded status. They cannot see class oppression because those words are not in the lexicon. Corporate capitalism has created an insular world of sterile detachment from the real world in which it inhabits. “Human resource” departments, situated in nearly every workplace, effectively erase class and context by enforcing optimism and encouraging a kind of self-policed dialogue. Outside this world, mass media manages “threats” by externalizing and otherizing. So little has really changed in the narrative. Once upon a time it was the communists, Jews, Khrushchev, the Vietcong, the sexually “deviant,” people of color, Russia. Now it is migrants, Muslims, Julian Assange, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, LGBTQ, people of color, Russia. All scapegoats for the country’s failures and abysmal state. All psychic projections of animus and angst for a bourgeoisie in America that never understood the machinations of its ruling class or shook itself free of the “exceptionalism” of its Calvinist puritanical roots.

But the angst of the American bourgeoisie is demonstrated more by what it doesn’t speak about than what it does. It is a disquiet which is at once terrified of the collapse that looms ahead and horrified at the idea of losing the status quo arrangement, even though that status quo is benefiting fewer and fewer people. It stands simultaneously aghast and paralyzed before the obvious madness of its rulers, and yet continually grasps at failed “lesser evilism” as a solution. And it largely still buys into the noxious mythology of it being the “greatest country on earth.” The corporate elite, having stripped down civic education over decades, robbed them of their political agency and resistance and replaced it with a sanitized history and demoralizing optimism, or “positive thinking,” which places all blame for their collective state and its inadequacies on the individual. That it has been so lauded by Wall Street should cause anyone to wonder why it has been so internalized by the disenfranchised masses.

To be sure, this arrangement is rapidly meeting its end. Banking and corporate corruption, never really having been dealt with in the last “Great Recession” or its notorious state funded “bailout,” has only become more blind and reckless. The membrane of the bubble created after that fiasco, born in avarice, is thinning in plain sight. It is about to burst again, and this time it will be far more catastrophic. The endless imperialistic wars that the US has engaged in for decades are also creating a financial strain. Coupled with climate breakdown those expensive bases of aggression around the world will begin to cost more than they bring in profit. In the US itself biblical floods are wiping clean the soil graded for agriculture throughout the Midwest and causing tremendous economic hardship for scores of rural and commercial farmers. Droughts offer a grim alternative to this increasingly chaotic climate pattern. Food prices will undoubtedly rise in the future thanks to a capitalist system which creates artificial shortages and surpluses.

Indeed, around the world the climate is shifting dramatically between drought and deluge affecting huge swaths of habitat. Already countless species have succumbed to this ramification of a warming world. But also to industrial pollution, defilement of the oceans, misuse of land and extraction of minerals and fossil fuels: the excesses of capitalism. According to a recent study, a million more species are being marched down the halls of extinction today. Trash is filling the world’s oceans, with birds, turtles and whales washing up by the thousands with bloated bellies full of plastic detritus. It’s literally raining plastic particles now in many places. And all the while the beneficiaries of this pernicious and omnicidal system are dwindling to a select few who are incapable of grasping the quietus of all life on the planet, let alone their own. But without a doubt, this small segment of society will fight ferociously for their continued privilege no matter how untenable, absurd or suicidal it is.

The concurrent madness of the ruling class and the angst of the bourgeoisie in our age isn’t anything surprising. Like the phenomenon of Trump, it has been an unholy union in the making for a long time. The product of empire itself. Social media and the death throes of capitalism have only made it more visible to the general public as of late. But it should be understood that while the ruling class are moneyed and powerful, they are not omnipotent, nor are they more intelligent than the rest of us. On the contrary, even as it sees the demise of the biosphere on which it depends, this “elite” class can do nothing else but marshal the language in an attempt to save its failing economic trajectory. Thus, it is militarizing our collective existential moment: not to save the planet, but to save capitalism itself. And it will do this by deflection, brutally punishing or even eradicating those who have the least impact: the poor, the working class, and the global south.

Under a darkening, climate changed sky, created by the avarice of a few and their ceaseless wars and atrocities, an imperiled and disappearing biosphere lies before us all. Therefore, remaining silent and accepting the status quo in the face of ruling class folly, cruelty and madness, should only be interpreted as complicity to the crime.

Kenn Orphan   2019


The Belligerence of Empire

“Capitalism’s gratuitous wars and sanctioned greed have jeopardized the planet and filled it with refugees. Much of the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States. Seventeen years after invading Afghanistan, after bombing it into the ‘stone age’ with the sole aim of toppling the Taliban, the US government is back in talks with the very same Taliban. In the interim it has destroyed Iraq, Libya and Syria. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives to war and sanctions, a whole region has descended into chaos, ancient cities—pounded into dust.” – Arundhati Roy

 “As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done to them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities.” ― Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments 

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” Smedley Butler, War is a Racket

“It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, 31 March 1968

Empire understands nothing except ruthless expansion. It has no other raison d’etre. In the past this meant the violent acquisition of lands and territories by a militarized system where caste was very apparent and visible. But today the dealings of empire are far more duplicitous. The ruling order of this age expands empire via the acquisition of capital while using the military industrial complex to police its exploits. But there is an insidious social conditioning at work which has led the general public to where it is today, a state of “inverted totalitarianism” as political philosopher Sheldon Wolin explained. Indeed, capitalism has morphed into the unassailable religion of the age even among the working class. Its tenets are still viewed as sacrosanct.

Violence is the sole language of empire. It is this only currency it uses to enforce its precepts and edicts, both at home and abroad. Eventually this language becomes internalized within the psyche of the subjects. Social and cultural conditioning maintained through constant subtle messaging via mass media begins to mold the public will toward that of authoritarian conformity. The American Empire is emblematic of this process. There is mass compliance to the dictates of the ruling class and this occurs most often without any prompting or debate whatsoever. In this dictatorship of money the poor are looked at with ridicule and contempt, and are often punished legally for their imposed poverty.

But the social conditioning of the American public has led toward a bizarre allegiance to its ruling class oppressors. Propaganda still works here and most are still besotted with the notion of America being a bastion of “freedom and democracy.” The growing gap between the ultra-wealthy and the poor and the gutting of civil liberties are ignored. And blind devotion is especially so when it comes to US foreign policy.

Most Americans still believe they live in the greatest country on the planet. They believe the American military to be noble and that they always reluctantly go into or are forced into war. Indeed, both the Democrats and Republicans possess an uncanny ability to bridge their ideological distances when it comes to defending US militarism, the Pentagon and the war machine of imperialism. But this is tied to the defense of capitalism, the ruling class, and the ultimate reason for war: the protection of that class’s global capital investments.

The persecution of Chelsea Manning, much like the case of Julian Assange, is demonstrative of this. It is a crusade against truth tellers that has been applauded from both sides of the American establishment, liberal and conservative alike. It does not matter that she helped to expose American war crimes. On the contrary, this is seen as heresy to the Empire itself. Manning’s crime was exposing the underbelly of the beast. A war machine which targeted and killed civilians and journalists by soldiers behind a glowing screen as if they were playing a video game.

Indeed, those deadened souls pulling the virtual trigger probably thought they were playing a video game since this is how the military seduced them to serve in their ranks in the first place. A kind of hypnotic, addictive, algorithmic tyranny of sorts. It is a form of escapism that so many young Americans are enticed by given their sad prospects in a society that has denuded the commons as well as their future. That it was a war based on lies against an impoverished nation already deeply weakened from decades of American led sanctions is inconsequential. Non-American life is routinely downgraded in comparisons to subjects of the Empire, even poor subjects, via rigorous conditioning, a prerequisite of military training. Flesh, bone and blood are reduced to a two dimensional drone image. The “other,” whether they be nationals of foreign lands or migrants, are mere avatars, projections of a psychic animus which have been painted by the ruling class as “threats to the homeland.”

The guardians of this narrative, those craven generals who delight in bloody forays but who wouldn’t dare place even a toe on a real battlefield, or the grim shadowy ghouls who haunt the halls of the Pentagon, or the purulent politicians who pontificate on meaningless terms like “American exceptionalism” and the “indispensable nation,” know how dangerous Chelsea Manning is to the daily workings of the death cult that is American Empire. She stands to expose the sham for what it is. And without working class kids to act as cannon fodder to protect the wealthy’s booty abroad they would be lost.

They fear Manning’s courage because they can neither plumb its depths nor navigate its landscape. It is an alien to them. Courage to them is the kind that comes in the form of mass murderers like sniper Chris Kyle, a psychopath mercenary in loyal service to the forces of capital. He, like the other servicemen and women in the military, protected the interests of oil companies, US weapons manufacturers and building contractors in conquered territories, but he embodies Americana more than any other figure today because he carried out the orders of empire without question. He killed the so called savages who supposedly threatened the American “way of life.” That he was an invader in their country is never challenged within the empire. On the contrary, the natives are cast as the “intruders” and “insurgents” while the invading military forces are portrayed as “freedom fighters” who are “defending the homeland” and spreading “democracy.”

Today Iran and Venezuela are once again in the crosshairs of the American Empire’s belligerence. Their defiance to the dominant socioeconomic order will simply not be tolerated by the global ruling caste, represented as the unquestioned “interests” of the United States. The imposed suffering on these nations has been twisted as proof that they are now in need of American salvation in the form of even more crippling sanctions, coups, neoliberal austerity and military intervention. As the corporate vultures lie in wait for the next carcass of a society to feed upon, the hawks are busy building the case for the continuation and expansion of capitalist wars of conquest.

Bolton and Pompeo are now the equivalent of the generals who carved up Numidia for the wealthy families of ancient Rome, with Trump, the half-witted, narcissistic and cruel emperor, presiding over the whole in extremis farce. Indeed, the bloated orange Emperor issued the latest of his decrees in his usual banal fashion, via tweet:

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

One can query when Iran, or any other nation has ever “threatened” the United States, but that question will never be asked by the corporate press who are also in service to Empire. They are, in fact, its mouthpiece and advocate. The US has at least 900 military bases and colonial outposts scattered around the planet, yet this is never looked at as imperialistic in the least by the establishment, including its media. Scores of nations lie in ruins or are besieged with chaos and misery thanks to American bellicosity, from Libya to Iraq and beyond. But the US never looks back in regret at any of its multiple forays, not even a few years back.

To be sure the American Empire, which has seldom seen a year without pillage of another nation or region, is now facing its greatest nemesis. Unheeded lessons of the past have made it thoroughly inoculated to its own demise. In short, it is drunk on its hubris and unable to grapple with its inevitable descent. Climate change is ravaging the heartland with crops inundated from Iowa to Nebraska. The fire season in the west has become a never ending, year round event. Miami and much of Florida will eventually be flooded beyond economic viability, with New York, Houston and several other coastal cities to follow. How soon will troops be deployed in the heartland or on flooded, climate change ravaged streets? But alas, the American ruling class will continue to shew away the screeching canaries. They will cast the calamities and catastrophes as “opportunities” as Pompeo incredulously did in a speech about the rapidly melting Arctic.

American Empire knows no other language sans brutality, deceit and belligerence. It is rapidly militarizing our collective climate catastrophe and shoring up ways to secure its dominance and control of waning resources. As in every other war the Empire has launched, the coming ones will be drenched in lies. It will be to save the planet or the “future.” But like every other war it will be waged against the poorest of the earth, those whose carbon footprint is microscopic compared with the wealthy few. The global south whose presence is everywhere and yet rendered largely invisible. But these unheard voices are being viewed increasingly as a threat to a pure white world of plenty, and their dehumanization might undoubtedly lend itself to atrocities and genocide not ever seen before.

The American Empire, one of the shortest lived in human history, has become the biggest threat to humanity and the living biosphere itself. Its industries rape the soil and defile the water. Its military tortures and slaughters the poorest people and decimates the most vulnerable of species. And its corporate media inundates the collective psyche with propaganda and spectacle. It demolishes democratic movements at their onset and installs puppet leaders who do its bidding by starving or stealing from their own people. And it does all of this with impunity.

But like all empires it will eventually fall. Its endless and costly wars on behalf of capital investments and profiteering are contributing to that demise. After all, billions of dollars are spent to keep the bloated military industrial complex afloat in service to the ruling class while social and economic safety nets are torn to shreds. It is now building a $100 million dollar drone base in Africa and is still the owner of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal. A society can only do this for so long before it collapses, and with climate change catastrophe on the horizon this game the Empire is playing will be sure to crash big and in a global manner. We can only hope that when it does there will be something left worth salvaging from the ruins of the earth it has so brutally laid siege to.

Kenn Orphan    2019

We Are All Sandra Bland

“People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” 

– Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography


“For it is evident that those who regard the whole earth as their future territory will stress the organ of domestic violence and will rule conquered territory with police methods and personnel rather than with the army.” 

― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism  

“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose
the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually
we must do battle where we are standing.”

― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches  


This week a newly surfaced cellphone video of the arrest of Sandra Bland in July of 2015 was released to the public. Sandra took the video herself and it captures a far too familiar horror millions of people, especially the poor and people of color, endure every day in the US at the hands of the police. Stopped for failing to signal on her way to the grocery store, then brutally arrested, she was found dead only three days later in her jail cell, the apparent victim of suicide. But regardless of whether she physically hanged herself or not, her life was indeed taken by an entrenched system of white supremacy.

Sandra Bland undoubtedly understood what she was up against. She understood well the system that oppressed her. And perhaps she had understandably had enough. She asked questions about her detainment and, like anyone treated unjustly, she felt exasperated. When she was asked by the officer what was wrong she calmly explained this to no avail. When she asserted her right to smoke inside her own vehicle, and defy an unwarranted demand, she was yelled at, threatened with a taser that can be, and often is, lethal, violently thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Her pleas for mercy and compassion were summarily ignored and ridiculed as she lay helpless on the warm, Texas grass.

Sandra Bland’s treatment is emblematic of the cruelty inherent to American society itself. A kind of sadism that permeates daily life especially in the disenfranchised precincts on the margins. There is an historical white puritanical impulse which should not be understated here either. It explains the frenzy of the lynch mobs of the past as well as the apologism for police brutality largely from the white middle class today. I saw this in the days following Sandra’s arrest and death. I see it time and time again following any incident of police malfeasance or violence. But I see it most especially when it involves the poor or people of color.

White, middle and upper class Americans, by and large, are conditioned to love and venerate their police state. In a myriad of ways it defines their national identity almost as much as the military. The police are seen as protectors of society, the supposed “thin blue line” against marauding thugs. So dissenting from this entrenched narrative is often painted as unpatriotic and even dangerously subversive. And defying often has deadly consequences. There is a mythology that reinforces all of this and it is reflected in popular culture. Hollywood perpetuates the notion that the police, prosecutors, the FBI, CIA, and other various “special agents” are simply upstanding people only interested in protecting the vulnerable and getting the “bad guy.” Corruption and abuse are almost always treated as anomalies. In this fantasy world there is no racism or class disparity that leads to crime, disenfranchisement or despair. Poverty is a footnote, if present at all. Programs and movies create a mystique around these institutions painting them with a brush of nobility, with little to no historical context whatsoever. An endless series of passion plays crudely divorced from reality.

Indeed, the bellicosity of the American Empire abroad is reflected in its domestic police forces. And they have been emboldened even more in recent years. A spate of State and Federal Supreme Court cases in the last decade have seen the courts come down almost unequivocally on the side of the police. In most states the police do not have any obligation to protect a citizen from harm. At the federal level, the Supreme Court has enshrined the right of police departments to conduct strip searches for any arrest. Statistically, there has been a sharp increase in the use of SWAT teams to address what most would consider to be non-violent drug offenses. And scores of police departments around the country have attained military hardware and tanks to carry out what appears to be a domestic war against the poor.

There is an endless list of cases like Sandra Bland and worse. Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy gunned down in a park in mere seconds for playing with a toy gun. Mike Brown, shot and left out on the hot Missouri pavement for hours to die. Eric Garner, choked to death for allegedly selling cigarettes. Freddie Grey, Natasha McKenna, and Philando Castile, all are just a few names that gained national and international attention. But this racist societal framework affects poor white people as well.

Daniel Shaver was gunned down in cold blood in a hotel hallway after pleading tearfully for his life. Devon Guilford was shot to death by a state trooper for flashing his headlights in an attempt to signal the oncoming car that its bright headlights were on. Teenager Graham Dyer was killed by sadistic officers who tasered his testicles until he lost consciousness when he was handcuffed in the back seat of a squad car. And then there was Kelly Thomas, a 37 year old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia and was brutally beaten to death by three police officers in Fullerton, California in 2011. Despite his repeated cries begging for mercy, calling out to God to save him and for his father, and apologizing to the officers over and over, they continued to beat and mock him until he was completely unrecognizable and unconscious. This can clearly be seen in video and audio surveillance as well as through numerous testimonies of eye witnesses. Despite all of this, Thomas’s killers were acquitted.

In addition to the long list of ordinary people targeted there are a myriad of ways the American police state operates. Guantanamo prisoners and scores of foreign citizens who are locked up in one of several of America’s foreign gulags count among America’s disappeared. Asylum seekers and migrant families are being separated from one another and placed in concentration camps indefinitely by the thousands.

And there are many political prisoners as well. Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal and Chelsea Manning are just three who have gained international attention. Indeed, the US is a nation that cannot handle dissent, particularly when that dissent reveals the crimes of empire and its endless wars, identifies its real maladies in economic injustice or systemic racism, or comes from the oppressed castes of society. Others who dissented in this way were also murdered for it, from Fred Hampton, to Malcolm X to Martin Luther King Jr. It must be said then that Sandra Bland was also a Black Lives Matter activist, so her death should not be passed by simply as suicide without looking at this long and sordid history of brutal silencing, disappearing and suppression.

In truth, suicide is often the final respite of the tortured. Sometimes it is a slow death from drugs or alcohol, other times it is quick. But it is always a tragic punctuation to a lifelong litany of cruelty, dehumanization and humiliation. And for the oppressed and persecuted it often feels like the only escape. Sandra Bland was arrested for “driving while black,” but she was also brutalized because she dared to defy her dehumanization. She may have taken her life in that Texas jail cell. We may never know. But her life was most certainly cut short by an entrenched racist and oppressive system that affects people of color as well as poor whites, immigrants, Muslims, the mentally ill, LGBT, the homeless and anyone who defies their enslavement, dissents from the dominant power structure, or simply exists. And so it should be understood that under such tyranny we are all Sandra Bland.

Kenn Orphan   2019